Depression as an occupational illness is one of the most difficult hazards faced by managers and safety professionals. Depression is hard to understand and it is often difficult to recognise an employee who suffers from the condition, let alone, figuring out how the workplace may contribute to the illness.
[Mental health issues are going to receive increased attention in Australia following the naming of the Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry.]
A recent article in Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine reports on a study that looked at “the relationship between antidepressant treatment and productivity costs”.
“The results suggested that employees with depression were about twice as likely to use short-term disability leave, compared to workers without depression. For workers with severe depression, the short-term disability rate was three times higher.
Employees with depression also missed more work days.”
The report also states:
“Many studies have linked depression to reduced productivity at work, but less is known about how productivity is affected by treatment for depression. The new results show that even in workers taking antidepressant drugs, depression is associated with increased disability and absenteeism.”
When safety professionals are looking for clues to illness and injury trends it is necessary to look for reasons behind absenteeism. Also, as employees move to treatment for psychosocial illnesses they can often drop off the radar of the safety professional. There are many reasons for this but any return-to-work can be taken to be fit-for-work, with conditions, by managers. The thought in the case of depression is that the worker is receiving treatment and medication so they are ready for work. The JOEM article says that this is not the case.
What the report achieves is a reinforcement that the prevention of depression is even more important as, even when treated, the employer cannot expect the employee to be 100%. Prevention is better than treatment.